The head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, has warned the conflict in Ukraine could send global food prices soaring, with a catastrophic impact on the world’s poorest.
Ukraine and Russia are both major exporters of basic foodstuffs, and the war has already hit crop production, driving up prices, reports BBC.
Mr Beasley said it was putting more people at risk of starvation worldwide.
“Just when you think hell on earth can’t get any worse, it does,” he said.
Russia and Ukraine, once dubbed “the breadbasket of Europe”, export about a quarter of the world’s wheat and half of its sunflower products, like seeds and oil. Ukraine also sells a lot of corn globally.
Analysts have warned that war could impact the production of grains and even double global wheat prices.
Mr Beasley told reporters that the number of people facing potential starvation worldwide had already risen from 80 million to 276 million in four years prior to Russia’s invasion, due to what he calls a “perfect storm” of conflict, climate change and coronavirus.
He said certain countries could be particularly affected by the current crisis, due to the high proportion of grains they currently import from the Black Sea region.
“The country of Lebanon, 50%, give or take, of their grains, come from Ukraine. Yemen, Syria, Tunisia – and I could go on and on – depend on the country of Ukraine as a breadbasket,” he said.
“So you’re going from being a breadbasket to now, literally, having to hand out bread to them. It’s just an incredible reverse of reality.”